The winner of the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album is going to be tough to decide as the albums nominated all boast substantial musical achievements. Cecilia Bartoli's Maria features 8 world premier recordings of early romantic period works, while Tarik O'Regan's Threshold of Night's title work earned him the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters Award in the Liturgical category. Hilary Hahn's recording of the rarely performed Schoenberg Violin Concerto is rightly nominated given the piece's extreme difficulty. Learn more about the nominated albums below. Can you tell who will win?
Cicilia Bartoli's Maria is a collection of works once performed by the famous early 19th century Italian mezzo soprano, Maria Malibran (some of which were written exclusively for Malibran), and features eight world premiere recordings. Though no recordings of Malibran exist, she had an impressive three octave range given the music that was composed for her. Bartoli studied Malibran's musical history, and even tuned the instrumentation and concert pitch to 430 Hz to match that which was used during Malibran's time. On the album, Bartoli exudes confidence and class with a voice in optimum condition. Though a mezzo herself, Bartoli has no problem at all singing the various works in a variety of vocal ranges.
2. O'Regan, Tarik: Threshold of Night
O'Regan's world premiere recording, Threshold of Night is a fine display of the composer's talents. The album for voice and strings features the two-time Grammy nominated Austin, TX based chorus, Conspirare. O'Regan's music, composed after moving to New York City in 2004, is lush and lyrical, poignant yet light hearted. According to O'Reagan, "these compositions, encompassing a music of polarities ranging from the dense and propulsive to the airy and meditative, reflect the cultural plurality of today's urban environment." Given the work's complexity and newness of sound, I will not be surprised if Threshold of Night wins the Grammy.
3. Schoenberg/Sibelius: Violin Concertos
It's almost entirely safe to say that Schoenberg/Sibelius: Violin Concertos was nominated for a Grammy based on Schoenberg's concerto alone. This rarely performed work is not only technically demanding for the performer but mentally demanding for the listener. Schoenberg's Violin Concerto is hard to love as it is not the tonal music most listeners are accustomed to hearing, I being one of them. But listening to the piece even just a couple of times through, enables the listener to see past the asymmetry; the entire piece sheds its mathematical theories and becomes an extension of the composer's soul as if he were speaking directly to us through the music. I have a feeling this album will be the epitome of Schenberg's concerto.
4. Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary
Spotless Rose: Hymns To The Virgin Mary presents a handful of works by contemporary composers including Paulus, Britten, McDowall, Howells, Busto, and Willan. The Phoenix Choral (formally the Phoenix Bach Choir) is the first American choir to record with the Chandos label. This has turned out to be a fruitful choice, as the choral group was nominated for four Grammys in 2008. This year they are also nominated for four Grammys, of which Spotless Rose is nominated for two. I've had ten years experience in singing in small groups and large choirs, and having heard the Phoenix Choral, it's not hard to understand why they are nominated. Their impeccable blend and balance and musical interpretation is second to none.
5. Weill: Rise And Fall of the City of Mahagonny
Unlike the four previous albums, this recording is actually a DVD recorded performance of Weill's opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Recorded on March 1st and 4th of 2007, the Los Angeles Opera's production starred Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, and Anthony Dean Griffey. Weill's Mahagonny tells the story of how a boom-town in the Old West rose from the desert to become a "Las Vegas" type of town full of glitz and glamour, wealth, and lust. It's a satyrical opera magnifying and examining the capitalist society. Originally written in German, the Los Angeles Opera's production was translated in English by Michael Feingold. It's music is a mix of jazz and the blues with a dash of classical orchestrations.